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Grace Moore (December 5, 1898 - January 26, 1947) was an American operatic soprano and actress in musical theatre and film, nicknamed the "Tennessee Nightingale." Her films helped to popularize opera by bringing it to a larger audience.

Early life

Moore was born Mary Willie Grace Moore to Richard Lawson Moore and Jane (née Stokely) Moore in the community of Slabtown (now considered part of Del Riomarker) in Cocke County, Tennesseemarker. The family relocated to Jellico, Tennesseemarker when she was a child. After high school in Jellico, she studied briefly at Ward-Belmont College in Nashvillemarker before moving to Washington, D.C.marker and New York Citymarker to continue her musical training and begin her career.


Musical theatre

Grace Moore monument in Jellico, Tenn.
Grace Moore's first Broadwaymarker appearance was in 1920 in the musical Hitchy-Koo, by Jerome Kern. In 1922 and 1923 she appeared in the second and third of Irving Berlin's series of four Music Box Revues. In the 1923 edition she and John Steel introduced Berlin's song "What'll I Do". When Moore sang "An Orange Grove in California," orange blossom perfume was wafted through the theater.

In 1932 she appeared on Broadway in the short-lived operetta The DuBarry by Karl Millöcker.


After training in Francemarker, Moore made her operatic debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York Citymarker on February 7, 1928, singing the role of Mimì in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème. She debuted at the Opera-Comiquemarker in Parismarker on September 29, 1928 in the same role, which she also performed in a royal command performance at Covent Gardenmarker in Londonmarker on June 6, 1935. During her sixteen seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, she sang in several Italian and French operas as well as the title roles in Tosca, Manon, and Louise. Louise was her favorite opera and is widely considered to have been her greatest role (a scene of Moore singing an aria from this opera can be seen at YouTube).

In the 1930s and 1940s she gave concert performances throughout the United Statesmarker and Europe, performing a repertoire of operatic selections and other songs in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English. During World War II she was active in the USO, entertaining American troops abroad.


Historical marker noting Moore's birthplace in Del Rio, Tennessee

Attracted to Hollywoodmarker in the early years of "talking pictures," Moore's first screen role was as Jenny Lind in the 1930 film A Lady's Morals, produced for MGM by Irving Thalberg and directed by Sidney Franklin. Later that same year she starred with the Metropolitan Opera singer Lawrence Tibbett in New Moon, also produced by MGM, the first screen version of Sigmund Romberg's operetta The New Moon.

After a hiatus of several years, Moore returned to Hollywood under contract to Columbia Pictures, for whom she made six films. In the 1934 film One Night of Love, her first film for Columbia, she portrayed a small-town girl who aspires to sing opera. For that role she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1935. She played similar roles in several other films. A memorable highlight of When You're in Love (1937) was a comic scene in which Moore donned flannel shirt and trousers and joined a 5-man band for a flamboyant rendition of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher," complete with gestures and "hi-de-ho's", but with the lyrics slightly altered to conform with Hollywood sensibilities. Also, she performed the popular Madama Butterfly duet "Vogliatemi Bene" with American tenor Frank Forest in the 1937 film I'll Take Romance.

The last film that Moore made was Louise (1938), an abridged version of Gustave Charpentier's opera of the same name, with spoken dialog in place of some of the original opera's music. The composer participated in the production, authorizing the cuts and changes to the libretto, coaching Moore, and advising director Abel Gance. This production also featured two renowned French singers: dramatic tenor Georges Thill and basse cantante André Pernet.


She was widely criticized in December 1938 when she curtsied to Wallis, The Duchess of Windsor, in Cannes. Upon her return to the United Statesmarker after six months and ten days in Europe ("to save money in income tax"), Moore defended her curtsy, saying:
She would have been a royal duchess long ago if she had not been an American. After all, she gave happiness and the courage of his convictions to one man, which is more than most women can do. She deserves a curtsy for that alone.


In 1935 Moore received the gold medal award of the Society of Arts and Sciences for "conspicuous achievement in raising the standard of cinema entertainment." In 1936 the king of Denmarkmarker awarded her his country's medal of 'Ingenito et Arti.' In 1937, she was commissioned as a colonel (an honorary position) on the staff of the governor of Tennesseemarker, and was also made a life member of the Tennessee State Society of Washington, D.C. She was decorated as a chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur in 1939.

Personal life

Moore married Valentín Parera, a Spanish movie actor, in Cannes, Francemarker, on July 15, 1931. They had no children. During the 1930s they maintained homes in Hollywoodmarker, Cannesmarker, and Connecticutmarker.

Moore published an autobiography, You're Only Human Once, in 1944.


Grace Moore died in a plane crash near the Copenhagen, Denmarkmarker airport on January 26, 1947, at the age of 48. Among the other plane crash victims was Prince Gustaf Adolf of Swedenmarker, who was at the time second in line to the Swedish throne and who was the father of the present King of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf. She is buried in Chattanooga, Tennesseemarker.

Moore's life story was made into a movie, So This is Love, in 1953, starring North Carolinamarker-born singer Kathryn Grayson. A collection of her papers is housed at the University of Tennesseemarker in Knoxvillemarker.



  1. Zepp, George. Opera star trained at Ward-Belmont The Tennessean, April 26, 2006.
  2. New World Records, Follies, Scandals & Other Diversions: From Ziegfeld to the Shuberts, New World NW 215, liner notes.
  3. Frank H. McClung Museum, Grace Moore Concert Gown. University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
  4. New York Times, " A Lady's Morals a.k.a Jenny Lind" and Mordant Hall, " The Swedish Nightingale," New York Times, November 8, 1930.
  5. Frank S. Nugent, " 'When You're in Love' Opens at the Music Hall," New York Times, February 19, 1937.
  6. See Bel Canto Society, Louise (DVD & VHS) for a collection of anecdotes, reviews, and other information about the film version of Louise.
  7. "People." Time. January 16, 1939.

Further reading

  • Farrar, Rowena Rutherford. Grace Moore and Her Many Worlds. New York: Cornwall Books, 1982. ISBN 0-8453-4723-3
  • James, Janet Wilson. "Moore, Grace." In: Notable American Women. Vol. III. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971.
  • Moore, Grace. You're Only Human Once. 1977 (c. 1944). ISBN 0-405-09698-4
  • Rasponi, Lanfranco. The Last Prima Donnas. Alfred A Knopf, 1982. ISBN 0-394-52153-6
  • Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters. New York: Garland Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-415-94334-5

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